Thursday, June 23, 2011

I'm new to urban camping, but it's not that bad. Fellow CFCR correspondent Brendan Flaherty and our friend Aryn were set up in a backyard in Calgary's Bridgeland neighbourhood. Think of it as their Riversdale — it's got a bright future.

We had an extension cord to power our gadgets overnight, a backgammon board, bathroom access, bags of fruit to keep from getting scurvy, and lots of beer and whiskey. Essentials.

Set-up, Aryn and I biked down the steep nearby hill to try to find Brendan and see Two Bicycles at a venue called Emmedia. At least that was the plan. It turns out that Google isn't always the best at finding out where something is. My ever helpful smartphone told me that Emmedia was in a parking lot next to a giant corporate building on 11th st  that definitely didn't have a venue in it. I had to search for it the old fashioned way — asking people on the sidewalk. Barbaric stuff to be doing in this, the 21st century. They had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, but a dude biking by overheard and stopped to tell me that it was three blocks down the street.

I made sure to get a paper schedule (with map) there and kept it in my bag all weekend. It had the correct addresses and everything.

Fortunately, we got there before he had started. This was the only Two Bicycles show of the weekend, while his other project, Teen Daze, was playing a few. The venue itself was a small dark room that encouraged floor sitting. The only light came from three projectors set up to show some looping nature imagery on three of the walls. It complimented the atmospheric, instrumental set well.

Next we headed to the Distillery to see Gobble Gobble and Man Man. This Distillery is a funny venue — it comes off as a sketchy dive bar with a stained glass dome above the dance floor. Gobble Gobble were their normal exuberant theatrical selves. I'd seen them recently here in Saskatoon at a show where they got a bit over zealous and knocked a chandelier with a shovel, breaking its glass over top of the crowd. They still do the shovel bit, but now it's with a shovel and (what appeared to be) a copy of the board game Sorry. The other shovel's still hanging at Jale if you want to see it. The set itself was manic and fun, creating at least one circle pit and numerous bursts of enthusiasm. This band puts on one of the best live shows I've ever seen and I was a bit worried about anyone having to follow it up. Man Man didn't disappoint, however, taking the stage in glowing warpaint and ridiculous costumes and played an impressive set of experimental gypsy-pop. Frontman Honus Honus is an intense dude and knows how to get a crowd riled up.

Friday, June 24, 2011

I got a late start Friday, but made it to Tubby Dog just in time for the final part of the CFCR Showcase. The last bit of Shooting Guns was one of the louder shows of the weekend — I couldn't quite see the hot dogs shaking on the grill, but that was only because I couldn't get in far enough to see the hot dogs. The crowd was large and enthusiastic. Feral Children closed it out with a tight set that did us all proud. The showcase only did Saskatoon favours and I can't wait to see it grow next year.

After that I had to bike back to the tent to get my bike lock since everyone was splitting up and I'd forgotten it. I couldn't bike fast enough and missed the Buzzcocks, and then I missed most of the Sword's set while I found some food before Sleep came on. I mostly remember wandering around Olympic Plaza trying to bump into friendly faces (something that is apparently only difficult to do while trying to do it. Saskatoon was everywhere at this festival) and trying to figure out where I'd go next.

Julianna Barwick was a name I'd heard thrown around a lot over the last twenty-four hours, so I biked down to the Marquee Room. I didn't know much about her going in, and was surprised to see her onstage without much in the way of gear at all besides a looping  station and a mic. She uses her exquisite voice to excellent effect, looping it over itself until it's a swirling tangle of ambient dream-folk.

Ears soothed, I took off to see some friends play at the Local 522. Auld Beak were playing  as a part of the Bart Records showcase, and I arrived just in time to have them tell me I'd just missed one of their favourite bands of the weekend, the Bayonets!! Ah well.

They weren't going to be on for another half an hour, so I left to check out the situation at the Legion. Kurt Vile was high on my list of people to see, so I thought I might be able to get a stamp so I could get back in later. Luckily, I met Henry from Friendo/Memory Screen on my way there and he told me not to bother.

"It's at capacity," he said, "I'm heading for greener pastures."

I shrugged and turned around. The band was still setting up when I got back, so I got a beer and came up with a new plan for the night.

Despite the fact that Auld Beak is from Saskatoon and made up of friends, this show was actually my first time seeing them. Their regular drummer was on tour with another band, so Colin from Night Danger was filling in. The crowd was small but enthusiastic, engaging Evan in some back and forth even though he has a policy of "never talking on-stage."  The band's songs are short, fast, and fun, and I'm going to make sure I don't miss them the next time they play here, since their set was unfortunately cut short due to a problem with Evan's amp. A tough break for some good dudes who drove a long way.

My new plan for what to do next was shaky at best, but I was drunk and in a good mood and I knew I had friends back at the Marquee Room where Braids were about halfway through their show. I'd missed them when they were in Saskatoon for vivefest and I already had a stamp for the venue, so the reasons to go there were piling up.

It was worth it, too. Braids put on an excellent live show. Lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston pulls off some pretty impressive vocal work, and the rest of the band don't slouch either. It's easy to be skeptical of any band in the heights of such buzz, but Braids are enduring it nicely.

I convened with Brendan outside afterwards. We were losing Aryn, but he was drunker than I was and so easy to talk into joining me at Dicken's Pub for Crocodiles and Deer Tick. I didn't realize just how much drunker than me he was, though — he was following me by bike down the street Dicken's is on and completely disappeared. I circled around and didn't see him, then decided that I was actually hungry anyway and set off in search of the least sketchy night pizza I could find.

That took half an hour, either because downtown Calgary is lame and almost completely shuts down at night or because I was drunk and sucked at following directions. I did find pizza, though, and perhaps unwisely bought two veggie slices. I felt like this made up for having skipped supper.

Full, I found Dicken's and headed inside. I found Brendan inside and we watched most of Deer Tick's set. They proved themselves more than ready for a crowd of rowdy drunken festival goers than I would have given them credit for, which was a good thing as the bar was full of exactly that.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday afternoon was all free barbecued ribs and outside hangs at the Palamino. Brendan beat me there and managed to catch Jon McKiel, which still makes me jealous.

I got a text from him that said "Better hurry up, the free food's going fast." He always knows just what to say. I finished my breakfast beer and hopped on my bike for my final day at the festival.

C'mon took the stage shortly after I got there and mocked our BBQ-induced lethargy, using it to leverage themselves into an even more epic than usual show. Their near disaster table-top guitar solos managed to wake some of us up.

Ottawa's Camp Radio was up next and played a straight ahead set of classic punk rock, full of guitar solos and jump kicks. Jim Bryson and a third guitarist joined them for their last few songs and they filled every inch of that place with sound.

The Raveonettes were about to go on at Olympic Plaza, so that was my next destination. They were a member short but, since they're rock stars and not babies, they crunched out a great set anyway.

At this point I left to find the artist's lounge with some Saskatchewan musicians with the intention of interviewing them on the way. The interviews happened (they should be up on this website sometime soon!) but unfortunately, the lounge was closed.

We made it back to Olympic Plaza in time for Minus the Bear. I'd seen them once before at another festival and used to listen to them a bunch. That said, I couldn't help but be a little bored by their set. It felt like much the same thing I saw them do years ago, except they looked older. I did get excited as soon as they played their bangers, I'll admit. They're a precise band who're really good at what they do, and they make me feel a tad nostalgic. Good songs are good songs.

The Dandy Warhols played next and were fun. I've never been that into them, personally, but they're the kind of band that have sing along songs anyway. The Olympic Plaza crowd was at it's weekend zenith by this point. I'd been catching glimpses of dudes in white bathrobes hanging out backstage and, through brilliant deduction, surmised that they were probably members of weird Georgian baroque-psych-funk-pop band of Montreal.

Of Montreal is another band clearly deserving of the hype surrounding them. They played a killer set of old and new songs amidst an ongoing theatrical on-stage saga involving lucha libre wrestlers, patriotic American women in distress, dudes with comically large fake boners, and hoop jumping, to name a portion of the antics. Entertainment at its finest.

It was the kind of show that would normally end a night, but not at Sled Island. More music was waiting down the street. I ended up at the Marquee Room to see now Saskatoon-based Shuyler Jansen (he's originally from Edmonton) playing with the brothers Ross from Foam Lake. These are all dudes who know their way around their instruments and the stage. Watching them play makes me feel awful for not being as amazing at something as they are by now but also grateful for being in a position where I can be at a music festival in Alberta watching them do their thing. Shuyler's new album, Voice From the Lake, is his best yet and well worth checking out. Foam Lake has an album of their own coming out soon and I can already tell you it's one of my favourites of the summer. Eyes open on that one, folks.

Meanwhile, on the sidewalk, my bicycle was being locked to another bicycle. I didn't have a clear plan for where I was going next, but I still regarded this as a problem. Since the lock was only looped through the rear brake line I managed to borrow a wrench from the movie theatre that operates below the Marquee Room (how cool is that?) and free myself. I was without rear brakes, but I was free to roam.

The important question was where to roam to. I hadn't been to the Legion at all yet, and that place is fun, so I headed in that direction only to be greeted by a line-up outside the door. Waiting in line to see bands I'd already seen the night before felt lame, so I sat down and pulled out my by now quite crumpled and ripped paper schedule to find something that would be line-free. My night was losing momentum and I was feeling a bit lost.

New York's Cheeseburger, a band my friends Matt and Tannara had raved about at last year's festival, were just about to go on at Vern's. I headed back and locked my bike up about five feet from where it had been before, since Vern's is across the street from the Marquee Room.

Feeling a bit dumb I headed downstairs and wandered around behind the crowd to get a feel for the band. Their general atmosphere is a friendly drunken obnoxiousness, like an old friend that wants you to drink cheap beer with him in an alleyway while he occasionally yells at strangers. The lead singer looks a bit like Ron Jeremy (but don't tell him) and sings quick dirty punk songs about tigers and late nights and pirates. Sing-alongs are encouraged, even if he's singing from the bathroom. I even found some Saskatoon friends in the crowd, which pretty much always helps everything.

I followed those friends back to the Legion to see Wild Flag. They were another band that I'd heard a lot about over the weekend. "They've got that chick from Sleater-Kinney!" No more line, we walked in and found the place still mostly packed, band members and more Saskatoon friends included. That's one nice thing about a festival I should mention — seeing members of bands you love in crowds and on the street and having the best time. Wild Flag slayed their set, by the way. I hope they tour Canada when their album comes out in the fall.

There's a lot of words above these ones, but I'll sum the whole thing up with: best weekend of summer, go next year if you didn't get to this one. It's worth it.

Dana Durell
When Insects Rule The World
Thursdays, 9-10pm